WASHINGTON — The Southeast picked up the pieces on Monday after deadly tornadoes tore through the region, killing more people in one weekend than in all of last year, and officials called out for the federal government to urgently help their devastated communities.
At least 41 reported twisters ravaged the Southern states over the weekend, killing 19 people and destroying homes, CNN meteorologists reported. At least six people were believed to be missing in Georgia, including a 2-year-old boy who was caught in the tornado in Dougherty County, officials said.
Tornadoes were reported in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. In 2016, tornadoes left 17 people dead across the country.
Three weather-related deaths also were reported in California and one person died in Pennsylvania, increasing the total nationwide to 23.
Chris Cohilas, the chairman of the Dougherty County Commission in southwestern Georgia, said storms slammed his county early this month and these latest twisters compounded the agony.
He implored the Federal Emergency Management Agency to get “boots on the ground” to help the community since the storms on January 2 and warnings of more to come. So far, he said, FEMA has not been responsive and he aired his frustrations with the agency.
“To get caught up in the bureaucratic red tape at a time of this amount of human suffering is disgraceful,” he said at a news conference on Monday.
“I would ask that President Trump take some significant steps to cut through the bureaucratic red tape and to get us some people on the damn ground.”
In an email, FEMA said the agency “is doing initial assessments of damages in Georgia today, including a flyover.” At the request of Georgia officials, FEMA will start federal and state preliminary damage assessments for individual and public assistance this week, the agency said.
FEMA representatives were also recently deployed to emergency centers in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Florida to support the response, and teams are on standby if needed, officials said.
The barreling twisters left people stunned and communities devastated. They reminded one survivor in Georgia of a scene from a horror movie.
“All you hear is people screaming, ‘Help me, help me,’ ” said AJ Miley, a resident of the Sunshine Mobile Home Park in Georgia, according to CNN affiliate WSB-TV.
Devocheo Williams, also at the trailer park, said he saw people “tossed through the air,” the TV station reported
“All I saw was a little girl flown up and thrown in a ditch. Three seconds later, the trailer got picked up off the ground and landed on top of the mother and son,” Williams said.
When the howling winds subsided, the landscape across the Southeast was dotted with overturned cars, debris and scores of damaged mobile homes.
Rain on the horizon
The storm that hit the Southeast turned into a nor’easter as it headed up the Eastern seaboard overnight into the morning, with strong wind gusts of 40-50 mph expected overnight, said Taylor Ward, a CNN meteorologist.
Isolated hurricane-force gusts of more than 75 mph were likely in parts of the Northeast, including Long Island, New York and Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Ward said heavy showers were expected along the coast overnight Monday into Tuesday, with up to three inches of rain possible.
Interior areas of the northeast into New England could see up to 10 inches of snow, Ward said.
On Monday, the weather caused flight delays at airports from Washington to New York and flooding at the New Jersey Transit Hoboken train station, which also flooded during Superstorm Sandy.
Train delays were reported in New York and New Jersey due to coastal storm conditions and downed power lines. The National Weather Service also issued a coastal flood warning for Southwest Suffolk County, New York, east of Manhattan, through Tuesday morning.
The severe weather caused comical sights, like a discarded Christmas tree blowing in the wind through the streets of Manhattan.
Deadly Georgia storms
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has declared a state of emergency for 16 counties, and he said the state will seek federal assistance to help storm-stricken areas. Fifteen people were confirmed dead across the state.
One of the most chaotic scenes unfolded Sunday at the Sunshine Acres mobile home park near Adel in Cook County, Georgia.
Five people remained missing Monday from Sunshine Acres, a community of about 60 mobile homes some 200 miles south of Atlanta, Adel Mayor Buddy Duke said.
Officials on Monday released the names of seven victims from the mobile home park: Alexis Livingston, 18, Adrian Mays, 38, Lawansa Perry, 41, Mary Cantrell, 62, Jamie Walters, 33, Amanda Rowe, 41, and Joe Deskins, 36.
Cohilas said the confirmed death toll in Dougherty County of four people was sure to rise.
“I know that I was up in the chopper as we were helping look for a 2-year-old child that had been swept away in the tornado,” Cohilas said, CNN affiliate WJXT reported.
Albany, Georgia, a city about 180 miles south of Atlanta, was also recovering on Monday. The severe weather destroyed a trailer park there.
Fatal tornado in Mississippi
Preliminary damage assessments conducted in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on Saturday showed a tornado packed winds reaching between 136 and 165 mph.
It killed four people and injured more than 50 people in Forrest County, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency reported. Most damage was near the cities of Hattiesburg and Petal.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency. In Alabama, 15 counties reported storm-related damage.
West Coast warnings
In California, where a winter weather system has unleashed torrential rain and strong winds, Gov. Jerry Brown late Monday declared a state of emergency across 50 counties, including the cities of Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento and San Francisco. The move allows local officials to seek recovery money to repair damage from flash flooding, erosion, mudslides and debris flows.
Early estimates indicate losses in the tens of millions of dollars, according to the declaration.
Two people were missing off the coast of Pebble Beach, the US Coast Guard said Monday. Officials said they suspended search efforts indefinitely pending “any new information.” The search was stopped due to deteriorating weather conditions.
Coast Guard Ensign Courtney Hanson said one of the missing is male, and the other is female. Both are Chinese nationals.
In northern California’s Mendocino County, a 125-foot-tall oak tree fell into a single-story apartment, killing a 36-year-old woman on Saturday morning, Capt. Pete Bushby of the Ukiah Valley Fire Authority told CNN.
Deaths reported in San Diego County
In Ocean Beach, one of two women rescued from the waters died Saturday night, Joe Amador, spokesman for San Diego County Fire-Rescue Department told CNN on Monday.
A large wave had swept both away just after sunset, Amado said. A bystander tried to save both but could only rescue one of them in the rough waters. A 23-year-old died.
Witnesses told CNN affiliate KFMB the two women were walking along Ocean Beach trying to get a close look at the waves when both were pulled into the water.
“They were like right in front of us … and then all of a sudden, they were gone,” Janice Ambrosiani said. “It’s not like they were way down in an area where they shouldn’t be.”
Ambrosiani’s friend was the bystander who plunged into the water and rescued one woman.
“She just couldn’t move. I tried to get her to stand up and she couldn’t and then she fell and I fell with her, and another wave hit us,” the man said. “I ran back out to try and save the second one but she got too far away and the waves got real big.”
Authorities in San Diego County were also working to recover the body of an adult from a swollen creek, San Diego Sheriff’s Department spokesman Ryan Keim told CNN on Sunday. Rescuers are also searching for a child in the creek.
A death in Philadelphia
In Philadelphia, a 60-year-old man in a car sales lot was struck and killed by a sign from the lot that the wind knocked off a wall shortly before 1 p.m. on Monday, Philadelphia police said. He died at the scene.